San Diego writer Greg van Eekhout likes dogs. So much so that his new book, “Voyage of the Dogs,” is centered on four of them.
The adventures begin when the dogs accompany their human counterparts on a space voyage to install a new outpost far, far across the galaxy. The book is written for the 8-to-12 age group.
Raised in Los Angeles and a graduate of UCLA, Van Eekhout published his first novel, “Norse Code,” in 2009. His other books include 2014’s “California Bones,” the first part of a fantasy trilogy for adults.
In San Diego, he lives with his wife, who is an astronomy and physics professor, and their two dogs. On Sept. 8, he will be at Mysterious Galaxy.
Q: What was your inspiration for the book?
A: I’m one of those people who spend possibly too much time looking at dog pictures on the Internet. It’s not just distraction or amusement. It gives me a deep sense of comfort to see good dogs. And they’re all good dogs, of course. Even my own two little terrier monsters. I’d just finished my adult urban fantasy trilogy, “California Bones,” and I was thinking about what to write next. I’d also just come off a really difficult year of caring for my elderly parents and experiencing their deaths. I wanted to spend the months it takes to write a book in a happier head space. A children’s novel about dogs left alone on a spaceship and working to complete their mission presented itself as the only thing I wanted to write about. If there’s a message, it’s that hope and comfort fuel the strength we need to get through difficult times.
Q: How did you balance humor and science?
A: There’s some science in the book, but it’s not a science book. It’s just part of the dogs’ reality. I like braiding humor and serious stuff together, and dogs are just naturally funny. Dogs in space? Even funnier. Sometimes the science actually drives the humor, like when the artificial gravity on the spaceship goes out and the dogs are floating around and bashing into each other.
Q: Why is Daisy important to your story?
A: Daisy is a Great Dane pup at the stage where her body is big, but her brain hasn’t caught up. She’s rambunctious and clumsy. It was a lot of fun to write scenes where she’s uncoordinated and bouncing around the spaceship. But she’s also smart, even though the other dogs don’t immediately realize it. Characters who are initially underestimated give you a lot of interesting opportunities for character interaction.
Q: Should humans create a brain implant so we can translate dog barks and body postures into human language?
A: I spend a lot of time asking my dogs what they want and why they won’t just tell me in English, so I am 100 percent in favor of this idea. I don’t know that their thoughts would be particularly interesting, but then I don’t know that my thoughts are all that particularly interesting either.
Q: Why did you want to incorporate true hero dog stories?
A: People have heroes, or at least people who inspire us and give us courage and hope. Even heroes have heroes. It made sense to give the dogs heroes as well. Also, I find the true hero dog stories interesting.
Q: What is the hardest part of writing for a younger audience versus your adult fantasy series?
A: I find writing for the different audiences equally challenging. I want to keep them turning pages. I want to evoke a range of emotions. I want to give them opportunities to think their own thoughts about the worlds and themes and characters I’m writing about. I want the things they felt while reading my story to stick with them after they’ve finished the last page. I think those are things most readers want, regardless of age.
Q: Do you have dogs yourself?
A: I pretty much can’t not talk about my dogs. My wife and I have two. Dozer’s some kind of terrier mix. We got him from Helen Woodward Animal Center in Rancho Santa Fe. He hunts socks and recently swallowed an entire dead ground squirrel. He was so pleased with himself — really smug. Amelia, a mash-up of corgi, rat terrier and whatever, we got her from The Barking Lot in El Cajon. She’s a favorite wherever we go and has never seen a park bench she didn’t try to jump up on, especially if there are people sitting on it. They’d both be disasters on a spaceship, to be honest.
“Voyage of the Dogs” by Greg van Eekhout, HarperCollins, 224 pages.
Conversation with Greg van Eekhout
When: 2 p.m. Sept. 8
Where: Mysterious Galaxy, 5943 Balboa Ave, Suite 100, San Diego.
Phone: (858) 268-4747
Davidson is a freelance writer.
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